When Andi Dorfman walked-out on the “Most Hated Bachelor Ever,” Juan Pablo (you can rest easy now, Pilot Jake), in March, her parting smackdown spoke volumes not only about the self-centered man of the hour, but the show itself.
“Do you have any idea what religion I practice? What my political views are? My views on social issues? Things that matter? Do you have any idea how I want to raise my kids?”
Dorfman’s anger got to the root of the current state of the Bachelor franchise which, despite claiming that at the center of its fantasy-laced tootsie pop is a show about true love, has felt about as authentic as the contrived group dates it forces its contestants to go on each week (you must try getting to know each other…while we force you to strip! Now dance boys, dance!).
Stripping episodes aside, Dorfman’s plea for real conversation–for substance past the fantastical notion of finding true love in six weeks–reminded me just how fake our current dating world can feel.
Whatever your poison–Tinder, Hinge, Grindr, Jdate, OkCupid, online dating has become the norm (don’t act like you guys met at Whole Foods). And though the apps have brought plenty of success stories (multiple just in my own social circle) the conversations and connections they initiate can often feel as superficial as the profiles we create for them–the smiling, surfing, dead-fish holding (seriously guys, why is this a thing), people we portray ourselves as in the five photos we’re allotted.
A friend of mine spent weeks texting a guy she got matched with on Tinder. They had a similar sense of humor, shared stories about each other’s lives and careers, and soon their texts became a regular part of each other’s day. But when they got their work schedules to match up and finally met for happy hour cocktails my friend realized–before her first rum and coke was even finished–that the chemistry just wasn’t there. The month-long fantasy was debunked.
When ABC tapped Dorfman to be this season’s Bachelorette I was intrigued, wondering if we’d get a season that went beyond the intoxicated catfights and exotic getaways that had become the franchise’s norm and actually portrayed something that felt authentic. And so, after five years of avoiding the show I had started watching religiously when I was eleven-years-old, I decided to once again give ABC my Monday nights.
After the thrill of watching my television become full of attractive men once more, the boredom began to kick-in as what I hoped would be a revolutionary season started falling comfortably into its traditional tropes. Ah here they are eating dinner in a restaurant by themselves, and oh! A B-list pop singer has suddenly appeared to serenade them. Fast-forward. “Nick is a totally different guy with Andi, he’s not here for the right reasons.” Fast-forward. “I’m just really not comfortable seeing Andi with other guys.” Are you aware of what show you’re on right now? FAST-FORWARD.
And then, just as I was about to break my DVR’s remote control, last Monday’s episode happened. And things, to borrow a phrase coined by another once-great reality show, started getting real.
I’m talking, of course, about the moment when host Chris Harrison gathers Andi and the guys together and reveals that former contestant Eric Hill, kicked off only weeks before at the time of filming, had died in a paragliding accident.
The filmed moment was quiet and stomach-churning. For minutes there is only Andi and her four remaining suitors sitting by themselves in shocked silence, just the sound of a clock ticking in the background. Its the first time in the entire season not a single one of the guys jumps to comfort Andi. Eventually the crew drops their cameras and joins them to cry, and at one point you can hear Andi exclaim“I can’t believe that’s the last conversation I had with him”—referring to the night she kicked Hill off the show during a cocktail party after he said he believed she was playing for the cameras on some of the group dates.
Many saw ABC’s decision to film and air the scene as grossly exploitative, and I’m not here to debate that. In the end the show decided to force us to watch the consequences of real life–and all the guilt and sadness that comes with it.
The starkness of the episode reminded me of An American Family, a 1970s television docuseries that followed a regular upper-class Santa Barbara family’s descent into divorce and affairs–now credited with being the first “reality TV” program. I mention it now because of a major criticism directed at the show, that just the presence of the camera encouraged its “real” subjects to perform.
But that’s the ironic thing about a reality show about finding love. Couldn’t we argue that dating in itself is a performance? When Eric confronted Andi before she showed him the door, he tells her, “I came on this to meet a person, not a TV actress.” But even when the cameras are turned off, aren’t we putting on our own kind of act–at least in the beginning of a possible relationship?
It reminded me so much of that classic Tinder letdown, when the person behind the carefully crafted texts and witticisms just turns out to be a guy who only wants to talk about his old frat house glory days. This is all hypothetically speaking, of course…
The end of last Monday’s episode also touched on the other end of the spectrum in online dating’s casual world–the need to be the “person who cares less”–when Andi lets go of resident sweetheart Marcus, who’d been expressing his love for the bachelorette since episode three.
“You did everything right, you would have given me the world,” Andi says as she dumps him. And as we cut to him crying in the limo, Marcus says “I shouldn’t have told her I loved her—it blew up in my face.”
How many times have we wondered if we’ve said too much in a text, been too open with a fling, or shown our cards in a relationship too soon? I’ve seen plenty of rejected suitors on this show crying in the limo of shame. But in a season whose bachelorette has encouraged—if not enforced—being open with feelings, nothing felt fake about the moment as Marcus wonders out loud if he “believed in something that wasn’t there.”
That fantasy of romance might not have been. But, at least on this episode of The Bachelorette, the depiction of dreams, desires, and mortality actually resembled our own messy millennial reality.